I have a new favorite coffee drink. While on vacation in Mexico at the Valentin Imperial Maya in October 2008, I knew I had some figuring out to do as far as coffee is concerned. As a general rule, hotel coffee is nasty, and as I found out last April, a nice all-inclusive resort is no exception. I had gotten around the bad coffee situation before by drinking cappuccinos, but the first cappuccino I had at the Valentin was just not good. I decided to experiment, and ordered an espresso with milk at breakfast the second day. The waiter returned with a small (6-ounce or so) coffee cup with a shot of espresso in the bottom. “This is warm milk,” he said, pouring steaming slighly-frothy milk from a small pitcher to fill the cup a little more than half way. “We call this ‘espresso cortado'”.
I Googled ‘espresso cortado’ and found a wikipedia entry that has a little different story from what the waiter had explained – typically the cortado is drunk in Latin America in the afternoon, and consists of one part espresso and one-to-two parts steamed milk. As the vacation went on, whenever I ordered one, it came in a very small two-ounce-or-so espresso cup, served as equal parts espresso and milk, more dense than the first one I experienced, more in line with the wiki version.
I have since adapted the recipe for my own experience at home, mixing a double shot of what I would call very strong coffee rather than true espresso with about en equal amount of steamed milk. I’ll still call mine a Cortado, as there are important distinctions between it and a macchiato (which has lots of foam, an element that turns me off of cappuccinos for the most part) or cafe au lait (which is a coffee base rather than espresso base). Strong coffee and very little foam, if any – that does the trick for me.